What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear ‘travel’ – Vacation? Meeting new people? Or maybe, Instagrammable sunsets? While traveling can be exciting and exhilarating, it’s so much more than sipping margaritas on a sun-soaked beach.
It’s no news that travel is good for your physical wellbeing, but a significant amount of scientific research suggests that exploring a new place can do wonders for your mental and emotional health as well.
Here are five evidence-backed ways traveling makes your mind happy and healthy:
1. It’s a great stress buster.
“The stress of work and daily demands can distract us from what we find to be actually meaningful and interesting,” says Dr. Tamara McClintock Greenberg, a San Francisco-based clinical psychologist and author of Psychodynamic Perspectives on Aging and Illness. Thus, taking a break from the daily hustle and bustle is essential for your mind to relax, recharge and rejuvenate.
And what better way to do so than to pack your bags and cross wanderlust-worthy destinations off your bucket list? Traveling promotes happiness and helps you take your mind off stressful situations. This leads to lower cortisol levels, making you feel more calm and content. “It also helps us reflect on our personal goals and interests,” adds Greenberg. According to a 2013 study, more than 80% of Americans, who were surveyed, noticed significant drops in stress just after a day or two of traveling. “Even though I’m always busy when I travel, whether it’s sightseeing, taking photos or just exploring a destination on foot, I know I’m the calmest and most relaxed when I travel,” says Jacintha Verdegaal, an avid traveler and founder of travel and lifestyle blog, Urban Pixxels.
2. It helps you reinvent yourself.
Writer Patrick Rothfuss said, “ A long stretch of road can teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet .” Experiential traveling, particularly to a foreign country, can help you re-evaluate and reinvent your life. “If you allow it, travel has the ability to expand your mind in a way you never realized was possible,” says solo travel expert and founder of the Trusted Travel Girl, Valerie Wilson.
Moreover, the valuable lessons that you learn along the way broaden your perspective, making you more aware and open to new things. “I love traveling to places with different cultures because it forces you to think about your own,”
says Verdegaal. “Different is not better or worse, it’s just different. But being confronted with these differences helps me to re-evaluate my own principles and values and, sometimes, change them,” adds the professional globetrotter.
Exploring new places can also give you a fresh start if you’re recovering from a major transition in your life. “When I had Lyme disease, for several years, my world shrunk. I lost friends who didn’t know how to deal with a sick friend. I was quite alone and lost a lot of my self-confidence,” says Wilson, who began to travel “out of fear of relapsing.” “By traveling and interacting with the world around me, I found a new passion for life. I convinced myself to travel even when I wasn’t feeling well. It has brought me happiness, given me a purpose, and has made me a strong, independent woman,” she explains.
3. It boosts happiness satisfaction.
Apart from the obvious fact that you don’t have to go to work (and can legit eat pizza for breakfast), traveling gives you the opportunity to step away from the daily grind. The new events and experiences help rewire your brain, hence boosting your mood and self-confidence. “I think people, in general, are not meant to be tied down to just one place their entire lives. I especially feel “trapped” when I have to stay in the same place for too much time, without being able to really move about and explore,” says travel aficionado and co-founder of The Passport Memorandum, Marta Estevez. “My life feels most fulfilling when I’m outside, living through new experiences and learning,” adds the travel expert who has been to more than ten countries.
“Travel definitely makes me happy,” agrees Wilson. “Even the act of planning a trip gives me something to look forward to and brings me happiness,” says Wilson. Turns out, she’s not the only one who feels that way. According to a Cornell University study, the anticipation of a trip can increase your happiness substantially, even more than the anticipation of acquiring something tangible, like a new car.
4. It enhances creativity.
According to Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School, visiting a foreign place and immersing yourself in their local environment (for instance, attending a ‘snake boat’ race in southern India or feasting on crispy tarantulas in Cambodia), increases your cognitive flexibility. It also enhances “depth and integrativeness of thought,” consequently giving a boost to your creativity. Galinsky is the author of multiple studies that look into the connection between creativity and international travel. Although, it’s important to note that traveling stimulates creativity only when you engage with the local culture of that place. Merely visiting a new city or a country isn’t going to cut it.
Additionally, extended traveling also improves your productivity, problem-solving skills and can even increase your chances of getting promoted at work!
However, “it’s important to remember that vacation can be very stressful for some,” notes Greenberg. If that’s the case with you, try taking “short, structured vacations in order to get used to the experience of having time off,” she suggests. Also, plan your trip properly, in advance, to avoid last-minute panic and chaos.
Now that you’ve finished reading about all the wonderful things travel does to your brain, it’s time to pack your bags and get going!